What, if anything, can we learn about Biblical religion from the vast quantities of material relating to Mesopotamian religion? The answer is: a great deal. No single volume provides better evidence for this conclusion than the recently published and widely acclaimed book by Thorkild Jacobsen, The Treasures of Darkness—A History of Mesopotamian Religion.a
Jacobsen is the revered master-scholar of ancient Sumer and Assyria. At 75, he has had an enormously fruitful and prolific scholarly life. Treasures of Darkness is a moving distillation of Jacobsen’s sensitive understanding of Mesopotamian religion.
But this book is not directed to a Biblical audience. Jacobsen has not set out to demonstrate what a study of Mesopotamian religion can teach us about Biblical religion, although he sometimes makes references to similarities and parallels. His primary concern is with the civilizations he has spent a lifetime studying.
Yet the resonances are there. Much of ancient Mesopotamian religion is reflected, although in a perhaps refined form, in later Israelite religion. In a sense, the Israelites can be said to have taken the religious torch from early Mesopotamian religions. To these they of course added their own unique contribution. But many of the abstract attributes of the divine were already in place, developed in Sumerian and Assyrian civilizations of the fourth, third and second millennia B.C.